Walters harmonizes music, old masters at its After Hours

Quarterly dances grew into monthly event

Scene: clubs, bars, nightlife

May 13, 2004|By Annie Linskey | Annie Linskey,SUN STAFF

Sip wine with a Greek god looking over your shoulder. Listen to live music while contemplating the old masters. And, by all means, dance across a marble floor with that cutie you just met.

This is what the Walters Art Museum has in mind with its After Hours events. On the second Friday of each month, there's a live band in the corner of the cavernous Sculpture Court. The museum sets up a cash bar in front of a grand staircase, and invites the public to dance and wander through the galleries. The next event is tomorrow night.

"In some respects, the most magical encounters with art are after hours," said Gary Vikan, director of the Walters Art Museum, who often attends the events. It is "not a solitary encounter with art, but one that is fueled by a social setting. And if people have a glass of wine, that helps, too."

The Walters started holding these popular dances quarterly in 2001. "People were asking, `When is the next event?' We were drawing a regular crowd," said Wade Price, who coordinates After Hours for the museum. So, in March they began scheduling them more frequently -- once a month. Between 500 to 900 people attend on a typical night.

"You get a good mix of what this city is all about," said Vikan. "Black, white, younger and older. Even though it seems as if it is a naturally younger venue, the frisky older folks are as into this as anybody."

People come with dates, looking for dates, or just looking for a nice way to kick off the weekend. "It is a good way to start a night," said Kathryn McKay, 31, who has been to five After Hours events. "You meet your friends there, and then go out. It easily costs less than cover charge at a nicer club."

McKay, of Baltimore, is a member at the Walters. She said she enjoys how the music contrasts with the environment. At a recent event, she recalled "standing there listening to an '80s band and looking at a marble statue. It was weird, but in a good way."

Each night has a different theme -- in addition to '80s music, recent nights have been set to salsa, zydeco and blues. Tomorrow will be a swing night.

"Our music is sophisticated," said Craig Gildner, who plays piano and guitar and sings in Blue Sky 5, the band scheduled to perform tomorrow. "But we're not always `black tie and tails.' We do some boogie-boogie stuff." Gildner has performed at After Hours before.

The acoustics are not ideal for a band, but Gildner said that doesn't matter. The group has a crack sound engineer. "We make it work," Gildner said.

The band caters to dancers. The music is energetic, but the tempo is kept at a reasonable pace. And, for those who don't swing naturally, Beginning Ballroom -- a Baltimore dance company -- will provide lessons.

Museums across the country hold similar music and arts nights. The Walters modeled this program on "Art After Hours" at the Virginia Museum of Fine Art in Richmond.

But Vikan has fond memories of living in Washington and enjoying evening concerts at the cozy Phillips Collection in DuPont Circle.

At the Walters, the $10 cover charge (free for members) buys admission to the performance, access to most galleries, light finger food and in some cases -- like tomorrow night -- a dance lesson and an adult art activity. The museum cafe is open for more substantial munchies, and there is a cash bar.

"People do look at the art," said Vikan. "They can just walk 120 feet and they're in the eighth century. Another 18 feet, and they're in the 4th millennium B.C. Take the elevator and the steps upstairs, and you're in 19th-century France. That is the way it works."

With all the socializing and dancing around priceless art, some might worry about breaking something. They shouldn't.

"It is sculpture, stoney stuff," said Vikan. "It is not fragile."

Just go, and enjoy the night. "It is an urban museum at its best," he said.

After Hours

When: Tomorrow from 5:30 p.m. to 10 p.m.

Where: Walters Art Museum, 600 North Charles St.

Cost: Free for members, $10 for nonmembers at the door. Nonmembers can also purchase tickets in advance for $9 at www.missiontix.com.

Coming events: June 11 -- Tropics Night with the Hula Monsters. July 9 -- Salsa Night with Mambo Combo.

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